The History Channel’s flagship series Vikings aired its last episode in December. And though this celebrated work is finally in the history books, its legacy will live on. It isn’t just another stereotypical “acclaimed drama series.” It isn’t trying to be anything other than itself. And that’s okay. Vikings is, first and foremost, entertaining. It combines intricate plot mazes with brutal action and cunning twists and spectacular drama and dazzling cinematography (having been filmed in beautiful countries like Norway, Ireland, Canada, and Iceland). Perhaps equally striking is its informative subtleties. Granted, the show does dabble in mysticism and graphic scenes enough to where it doesn’t render a stereotypical “academic” disposition, but make no mistake: It is still very cerebral (and the writers did their research). Granted, it’s impossible to know much about 9th-century Vikings—whose lives were juggled through the history of European literature by fictional and nonfictional tales alike—yet the History Channel lives up to its reputation here. In fact, Vikings is the greatest show it has ever produced (and it’s not even close).

Speaking of characters, lead character Ragnar Lothbrok is one of my favorite characters of all time. At first, he seems ruthless and heartless and able to violently terminate human lives without regret. Yet he has a soft and truly admirable side. He is patient. He is brilliant. He has intellectual curiosity. He cares for his family with not just words but also actions. Still, he can be very cold. You just never know. He is unpredictable, and that’s one of the best traits one seeks as a screenwriter. Props to Travis Fimmel, who nailed the role with remarkable charisma. But even if Ragnar weren’t one of the strongest characters I’ve ever seen, there are still plenty of other fascinating personalities. Athelstan, King Ecbert, Rollo, Floki, and Ivar come to mind. Vikings is like Game of Thrones in the sense that it explores the dynamic adventures of all sorts of people. You can tell it’s well-done because you generally tend to dislike most characters at first, then you slowly build empathy for many of them. The show also synthesizes elements of Viking religion with institutional Christianity. And these spiritual elements come alive through the characters, who are shaped by their idiosyncratic beliefs and experiences. But the characters themselves come alive in the battle scenes, which (aside from the fact that main characters are often a bit too invincible) are incredibly lucid, artistic, and gripping.

All in all, Vikings is consummate. It has its flaws. But my personal, subjective experience with it was magical. I’d say it is one of my top five all-time favorite full-length television shows. Then again, I don’t think this show is suitable if you cannot stomach the extreme violence. You will see extreme violence, raunchy sex, gruesome deaths, and things of that nature. To be fair, it’s because these things really did happen. Human history is often disturbing. And while some shows avoid those elements out of fear of tackling them poorly, Vikings does so with patience, adherance to the facts, and an ability to cancel out the gory side with bits of humanity. In short, you will not like Vikings if you hate violence—or when main people are killed off. You will like it if you approach it without preconceived notions, if you overlook its ruggedness and appreciate the history. The first few episodes are slow, but after that you’ll be immersed in the world of these vicious—yet surprisingly egalitarian—people. Once you hit seasons two & three, you’ll be mesmerized. And once you cruise through season four, you’ll know why Vikings is truly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. There are skippable parts in the last two seasons, particularly the Iceland scenes, but it always remains a phenomenal series.

Again, I think seasons two through four (which constitute a whopping 40 episodes alone) are what truly distinguishes Vikings In the grand scope of popular period piece television—and the first season, while not a masterpiece, certainly makes its nine episodes worth it. You’ll see what I’m talking about once Ragnar inevitably rises from unknown obscure farmer to great adventurer to conqueror to local king to king of Scandinavia to something even more than a great king: a god of some sorts. And while, again, seasons five and six aren’t quite as alluring as the aforementioned seasons, there are some aspects that are even greater. For example, due to a much higher budget per season and greater access to resources of the utmost quality (due to how Vikings gradually captivated audiences across the world), I’d say that many of the best individual scenes come from that final season. So, I kind of just think of the last two seasons (which are 20 episodes each, unfortunately) as an optional bonus for the series. I don’t want to spoil anything, but something extremely crucial happens in season four that serves as a climax. Anyway, the point is that Vikings boasts value and quality in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9/10

*Note: I couldn’t find a good official trailer on Youtube, but this fan trailer is fantastic.*